restricted access 8. The Best of All Possible Brothels
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re›ected in brothel decoration.183 What drew men to the brothel aside from sexual pleasure was the pleasure of transgression, real or imagined, seasoned with the spice of possible danger.184 The Great Pompeian Brothel-Gap 219 183. See chaps. 4 and 8. See Hershatter, Dangerous Pleasures (1997) 45, on the attraction of the trysting house in early twentieth-century Shanghai: “. . . within its walls a man could sleep with another man’s concubine or the daughter of a respectable family.” 184. See Hershatter, Dangerous Pleasures (1997) esp. 50–51. N Chapter Eight M THE BEST OF ALL POSSIBLE BROTHELS out of pompeii The uniqueness, not to say the utility, of the Purpose-Built Brothel at Pompeii can be appreciated best through comparison not just with other brothels in Pompeii, but with evidence from elsewhere in the Roman world. We can safely conclude that the practice of prostitution was widespread in that world, though its extent was doubtless exaggerated by moralists.1 Sex, a point that cannot adequately be emphasized, does not require a brothel to be sold. And yet it is greatly disappointing how little good evidence we have for brothels beyond the false archetype from Pompeii. If I have missed any identi‹cations launched by enterprising archaeologists on the Internet, in the media, or even in the scholarship, I beg pardon, but doubt that much of consequence has been omitted all the same.2 Given the state of the evidence, it must seem ungrateful to reject any 220 1. Herter, “Soziologie” (1960) 71–75, provides a useful overview of the wide extent of venal sex in classical antiquity, including a list of cities and regions where it is attested. For an example of moralizing exaggeration, see Clem. Al. Paed. SC 158.52, who declares that the whole world is full of porneia and anomia (porneia here can refer to all forms of illicit sex, not just prostitution ; anomia has the sense of “iniquity”). Clement must be thinking mainly of cities, though even there it would be unwise to take his remark as gospel. 2. For an example of an “Internet Brothel,” see the one allegedly uncovered at a temple of Aphrodite ‹fteen kilometers southeast of central Athens in connection with preparations for the 2004 Olympics: Website/Ananova (see list of abbreviations). I am skeptical of the identifcation as a brothel of the House of the Trifolium at Dougga (Thugga), despite its popularity on the Internet. brothel nominations out of hand. And yet, some of these are not at all well-supported except by the sort of bare conjecture or wishful thinking that can ‹nd no place in a post-Wallace-Hadrill world of brothel-identi‹cation. So I exclude the recently reported ‹rst-century b.c. “brothel” in Thessalonica, an identi‹cation that appears to depend on a functionalist confusion between bath and brothel.3 The same holds for the proposed late-antique bath/brothel complex in Ascalon, which seems based more on mere assertion than on actual evidence and falls well beyond our time frame.4 Even later is a sixth-century complex identi‹ed as a brothel in Palestinian Bet She’an-Scythopolis.5 The natural focus of curiosity is the capital, so we begin with Rome and then proceed alphabetically, starting with Catania. Rome For all of the information we possess about the practice of venal sex in the capital city, that regarding the number and location of brothels must rank among the aspects most weakly attested. Statistics naturally are lacking, aside from those of a very rudimentary kind. For fourth-century Rome, the Regionary Catalogs give a total of 45/46 brothels, a ‹gure which is not very telling in itself.6 They suggest for only one of the city’s sections, the Caelian hill area (Regio 4),7 how brothels were distributed in the city. Otherwise we must depend on literary evidence for this sort of information.8 Of course we cannot know what the criteria were for selection and identi‹cation in the Catalogs. For example, were brothels associated with commercial establishments included? In other words, would a caupona with a small brothel upstairs show up on this list? Nor can we be certain that the compilers of the list did not lower the numbers out of a sense of discretion. In any case, the number is not likely to be accurate, given most estimates of the size of Rome in this period. These numbers perhaps re›ect...